It’s almost time for the penultimate race weekend of the season in the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix and before battle commences on Friday, the pre-event Press Conference gathered reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), two-in-a-row Sepang winner Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), Phillip Island winner Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team), Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and home hero Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) together to talk about the weekend ahead – and debrief Phillip Island a little.
First to speak was Marquez, who failed to finish in Australia after an incident with Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), and he began talking about that – and his bad luck at Phillip Island, which always seems to hit after a title win at Motegi…
“If it’s a coincidence after I win the title in Motegi, then it’s ok to continue like this! I would rather win the title. Phillip Island was a shame but we can feel lucky, me and Johann. It was a strange crash but sometimes it happens with the slipstream, he didn’t stop the bike and I was a little bit wide. I didn’t expect him to be there. He apologised but it was a racing incident, now it’s time to think about Malaysia.
“We’ll try to continue in the same way, in Phillip Island we struggled a bit then in the race we were in good shape so we’ll try and keep our performance here. The preseason was good here, race pace, but now it’s completely different; different bikes and different setups, so we forget that and concentrate on the weekend. We start from FP1, try to work hard, then we’ll see if we can fight for the podium, the top five or the victory.”
The victory is something that’s belong to Dovizioso for the past two years, and he’s eager to repeat it. The Italian first talked about some good omens from Phillip Island.
“We’ve proved our improvement this year in the second half of the Championship and the confirmation was in Phillip Island,” says ‘DesmoDovi’. “It was very important to understand that, but I think it’s not enough. The bike is better because every practice, and on Saturday with a lot of wind, we were stronger than last year but we also still couldn’t fight for the victory. But I think from my side I have to improve some things, I am better at some tracks but I think I have margin to improve with my riding style and position on the bike at tracks like that.”
Then, the Ducati rider was asked about his first premier class podium taken at Sepang, and reminisced for a minute: “I’m happy about that, I remember it well that weekend and race. I had a strong race with Nicky (Hayden), it was my first year in MotoGP and until the last corner we were braking very hard and I was able to arrive in front. It was nice, it was a good moment. This track is good for me but in the past if we look at the results we didn’t take a lot of good results in the dry. The last two years we won in the wet but it will be interesting to see what our speed would be in the dry.”
On Sunday, time will tell. Until then it remains Viñales who’s the most recent winner; back on the top step in Australia for the first time since Le Mans 2017.
“It’s been nice,” says the Spaniard. “We enjoyed it a lot with the team and it’s been a long time since we enjoyed a dinner like that! I think now we can do even better because we’re more relaxed and let’s see if that can help us to improve, and help Yamaha.”
Any specific goals for Malaysia? As could be expected, the Spaniard wouldn’t be drawn: “I want to try to be competitive and be in front and try and finish the season well in the standings. It’s important to not lose this momentum now.”
Next up was Andrea Iannone, who is on a roll and took second in Phillip Island – after a more difficult time at times.
“Sometimes we lose motivation when it’s difficult, but step by step and with hard work we’ve recovered and got very close to the top manufacturers and top riders. I’ve recovered my motivation well and I want to continue like this. From the second part of the race I think we’ve come back really strong and really close. From Japan on we’ve been really close, with the team and the bike and I want to continue like this.
“Sepang is a really good track, every year is different. When I arrived in MotoGP with Ducati it was a difficult moment, in 2015 I don’t remember my result but not on the podium for sure! In 2016 I fought with Andrea and Vale for the podium and in the end I lost the front at Turn 9…we will see. Last year was a difficult race in wet conditions but we’ll see, and try and improve my result.”
Lorenzo, meanwhile, isn’t expecting quite the same. He was on top in testing at Sepang and second last season, but he’s coming back from injury this year and he’s not setting a target as yet – just getting through the weekend better than Japan.
“I feel better than in Motegi some weeks ago, that’s for sure, the operation went well and I feel stronger and more powerful,” explains the Ducati rider. “Obviously I only had the operation a few days ago and took the cast off yesterday, I didn’t move it a lot so the mobility isn’t very good so in two or three days we need to speed up the recovery of the mobility. I’m gonna try, I’m better than in Japan so let’s see if I can race for the whole weekend.”
Asked about why he’s so eager to come back so soon, Lorenzo says it’s more than just time you lose when you’re not riding.
“I want to get back on the bike, it’s been a long time and for sure you’re losing practice, skills, everything. It’s not only about fractures but also your general physical condition. This time I don’t think I will be able to fight for anything big but at least I can get used to the bike again and I think that will help me to prepare for my last chance to get a big result for Ducati at Valencia.”
Finally, the floor hushed to hang on the every word of home hero Syahrin. He talked about Australia, which had big positives as well as the more obvious negatives - and said he’s learned even more coming into his home race.
“First of all, I want to say thank you to everyone, it’s my first time here with these guys! Then yeah, in Phillip Island I expected I wouldn’t be able to do a good result there because for many years in Moto2 I’ve struggled. I’m from Asia and arriving in cold weather in Australia, I’m scared with the weather and wind, and I’ve always been slow in Moto2. But when I moved to MotoGP, the mechanics told me it’s different to Moto2 and when I went out in FP1 I surprised myself I could do well. Then in FP2 I was P11 but – it was a pity and get well soon to him, Cal Crutchlow was injured – so I went to Q2. In FP3 I tried 10km/h quicker than Friday and I lost the front, I thought my hand was broken because when I tried to move it there was a lot of pain so I thought I didn’t want to ride in FP4 and the qualifying, but my motivation is very strong and I tried. After two or three laps I wanted to go back in the box but I kept trying. Then it was the best qualifying or me, and it’s a shame about the race but I learned something from these guys in front of me, I made good lines and improved my braking. I need to work on myself.
“After Aragon we found something in the setup and we’ve improved on braking and turning and we started to gain on Morbidelli but in Phillip Island he made a big gap when I couldn’t finish.”
That battle for Rookie of the Year is still wide open, the fight for second and third overall is wide open and the Constructors’ crown isn’t decided yet either – tune in for the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix this weekend for another Sepang stunner!